Oral history of British science

Swinburne, Richard (2 of 5). National Life Stories:

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  • Subjects

    Science and Religion

  • Recording date

    2015-12-01, 2015-12-01, 2016-01-07, 2016-02-09, 2016-03-03

  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Oxford

  • Interviewees

    Swinburne, Richard, 1934- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Additional comments on own childhood, especially experience of loneliness in school holidays. Mentions sailing holiday with university friends at end of first year at OU. [4:39] Further comments on childhood, including tendency to hide own strong religious faith from parents, parents' relationship [section of track 2 between 5:37-5:47 closed for thirty years until 13 December 2046], mother's strong interest in own academic development. [7:05] Story of award of First Class Honours Degree (PPE, OU), 1957; beginning BPhil in Philosophy OU (including details of Gilbert Ryle's initiation of BPhil course at OU). [10:51] Comments on content of BPhil, including paper on history of biology and small thesis on relations between scientific disciplines. Story of successful application for Fereday Research Fellowship at St John's College, OU [1958-1961]. [14:54] Comments on reasons why paper on history of science - taught by Alistair Crombie - had been introduced to BPhil. [16:13] Comments on own supervisor for BPhil, Henry Price; attendance of lectures (including those of JLA) and classes from a very wide choice; wide reading (mentions reading of work of Sigmund Freud). [20:29] Story of particular class taught by JLA on 'excuses', with focus on meaning of particular adverbs: deliberately, intentionally, etc; influential lectures of PF Strawson on 'descriptive metaphysics'. [24:08] Comments on formation of view, at OU, that own future employment (following clerical training) might involve a combination of academic and clerical work, as a university chaplain (rather than a parish priest); reasons for reading and views on work of SF, including belief in role of 'unconscious' motivations; lecture course of Friedrich Waismann on space and time (including relativity theory). [28:34] Comments on residence during second year of BPhil and following year in theological college St Stephen's House, Oxford; achievement of 'distinction' in Postgraduate Theology Diploma, 1960. Story of year 1960-1961, involving further research in philosophy in relation to the sciences, marriage. Comments on wife, including her degree, Anglican Christianity, lack of interest in philosophy; view of marriage as unsuccessful (mentions eventual separation). Mentions birth of first child, 1961. [34:41] Story of successful application for Leverhulme Fellowship, University of Leeds [UOL] in order to continue work on relations between philosophy and science, 1961; experience of working in the Centre for History and Philosophy of Science [CHPS] in the Department of Philosophy, UOL, including attendance of first year zoology classes, teaching of the history of astronomy and physics and on history of zoology in the 19th Century. Mentions own publications in history of science at this time. Comments on development of interest in reasons why, historically, certain theories in science are preferred/pursued over others; living arrangements in rented house on outskirts of Leeds. Mentions birth of second child. Comments on wife's social isolation; own tendency to work at home. [39:36] Detailed comments on decision to give attention to science in own academic development, including concern that the Anglican church tended to be complacent about the extent to which a "modern scientific worldview" was raising questions about "moral views" and own views about declining church attendance. [42:16] Comments on contribution of astronomer Fred Hoyle to public/popular understanding of science as an "atheistic person". Mentions the BBC radio 'Debate on the Existence of God' between Bertrand Russell and F. C. Copleston [1948]. Comments on wider tendency for BBC radio to be "deferential" to religious (Christian) content/outlook at this time; view of lectures of CP Snow on 'The Two Cultures' [1959]. [45:31] Comments on historians of science leading CHPS Department of Philosophy, UOL: Jerry Ravetz and Donald Cardwell. Brief further comments on zoology classes attended, UOL. Comments on development of own thoughts on extent to which scientific theories were favoured according to their simplicity, not just their ability to explain observed data; related view that the existence of a creative/sustaining God was the simplest theory for the observed facts of the Universe, the evolution of humans, and human consciousness. Mentions difficulty remembering precise timing of development of this view. [50:26] Story of application for academic job at time (1963) of university expansion; appointment as Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Hull [UOH]. Detailed comments on reasons for not seeking ordination as an Anglican priest at this time, with discussion of wife's depression. [53:12] Comments on reasons for application to UOH; wife's view of development of own career; house bought in Hull; wife's childcare and part-time teaching; own experience of relatively slight teaching/administrative responsibilities allowing time for research/publication of research, including first book 'Space and Time' (1968). Mentions own lectures on cosmology; attendance of lectures on mathematical physics, cosmology and quantum theory (with own related study of 'linear algebra'). [58:08] Description of/comments on Department of Philosophy, UOH, including colleagues. Story of aspects of life of colleague Christopher Williams, including his Christianity. Comments on/discussion of variable quality of academic appointments to Department of Philosophy, UOH during period of own employment there (1963-1972). Comments on own book 'Space and Time' (1968). Mentions promotion to Senior Lecturer. Story of sabbatical leave for period of a year from UOH, spent at University of Maryland, US. [1:07:52] Further comments on colleague at UOH, Axel Stern. [1:09:11] Comments on churchgoing in Hull (Saint Alban's); the congregation's view of own employment as an academic. [1:11:38] Brief comments on way in which studies in history of science and in philosophy were confirming own personal Christian faith. [1:12:26] Comments on own reading in the history of science at this time, including view of tendency for "popular" interest to focus on Copernicus and Darwin, rather than on less well known controversies in 4th Century; view that evolutionary accounts of human origins are compatible with understanding of God as creator. [1:17:50] Comments on memory of lack of interest in relations between science and religion expressed at own local church (Saint Alban's). [1:18:53] Comments on time and place of writing papers and books at UOH; time spent with own children when young; weekends spent with family. [1:21:32] Further comments on year spent in US [1969-1970], including stories of experience of student revolutionary movements at University of Maryland, experience of contrast between politically conservative culture of local church and political outlook of pastor at university chapel. [1:27:40] Comments on relations with colleagues in Department of Philosophy, University of Maryland; work in philosophy pursued here. [1:30:27] Comments on differences between prevalence of religious belief in UK and US. [1:35:16] Story of application for professorships in philosophy (University of Lancaster and University of East Anglia); appointment as Professor of Philosophy, University of Keele [UOK], 1972. [1:36:47] Story of beginnings of time at Keele, including residence on campus, experience of adequate time for own writing, structure of 4-year, then 3-year, degree courses designed to combine arts and sciences, own switch to writing on philosophy of religion (rather than of science). Detailed comments on own book 'An Introduction to Confirmation Theory' [1973] ('confirmation theory' being a form of the 'probability calculus'), including use of Rudolf Carnap's 'The Logical Foundations of Probability'; writing of trilogy of books applying 'confirmation theory' to the theory of the existence of God: 'The Coherence of Theism' [COT] [1977], The Existence of God [EOG] [1979], 'Faith and Reason' [FAR] [1981]. [1:48:37] Comments on argument of COT, including analytical treatment of proposed qualities of God such as omnipotence and omniscience; own appreciation of treatment of these qualities in Thomas Aquinas' 'Summa Theologica'.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Professor of Philosophy Richard Swinburne.

  • Related transcripts

    Richard Swinburne interviewed by Paul Merchant: full transcript of the interview

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